The Tempest Written By William Shakespeare - How does the opening scene capture the audience, introduce themes and characters and sustain interest bearing in mind the construction of Shakespeare's theatre?

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By Sabina Chan

The Tempest Written By William Shakespeare:

How does the opening scene capture the audience, introduce themes and characters and sustain interest bearing in mind the construction of Shakespeare’s theatre?

          This play is unlike any other Shakespeare play. It contains magic and supernatural things. In Shakespeare’s time, people believed in magic because they had poor education and could not explain natural events. In ‘The Tempest’ the main themes and characters are introduced in the opening scene. The tempest is the symbol of change. In the Tempest, order has been upset by the overthrow of Prospero. The storm brings the people responsible to the island so that order can be restored. ‘A tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning heard’. So already Shakespeare is getting the audiences attention by starting off the play with a ship in the middle of a storm. The play begins on a ship, with a shipmaster, a boatswain and mariners trying to keep the ship from getting wrecked and killing passengers. Then Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio and Gonzalo enter and get rude to the boatswain. The Boatswain orders action to save the ship but disaster strikes. Miranda and her father Prospero are left on the island. Prospero begins to tell her his history, and how they became upon the island. During the storm, Boatswain talks to noble men with a polite manner, but after when he lose his temper, he curses and is blasphemous.

‘A plague upon this howling! Have you a mind to sink?’ His authority on the ship overrides the traditional hierarchy where the king is in charge. Alonso gives the audience the impression that he is worried, but is also kind and caring.

‘Good Boatswain, have care.’ Alonso is the king of Naples.

Antonio and Sebastian however are rude and shall always put their safety before the kings.

‘Hang, cur, hang, you whoreson insolent noise maker!’ This shows inconsideration and rudeness. Gonzalo is happy and humorous. He is the peacemaker. He is also loyal to the king.

‘The king and prince at prayers, lets assist them, for our case is theirs.’

          Finally in the ending scene Prospero has the success of control. Ariel reports the troubled state of the King and expresses compassion for Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio, and they wait for Prospero’s judgement. He is moved by Ariel’s feelings, so he says that he will be sympathetic towards them. He dose not want revenge, and declares he will give up magic. The play ends with Prospero asking the audience for applause, and for forgiveness to set him free.

          To make this play sustain and catch attention to the audience Shakespeare must know the theatre is used for entertainment, and the audience’s expectations. To perform the first scene on stage with the first stage direction ‘A tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning’ He will have to do this by getting cardboard and shaking it to make it rubble, he will have to do this several times. To make the lightning he could have to get lots of candles and mirrors, this will reflect the light, making it flicker in different directions. When the boat is caught in the storm the actor’s movement change, they are tense, panicky but still trying to keep calm, but you can see that looking at their facial expressions that they are scared.

          This play would appeal to a Shakespearian audience not a modern audience, as the people in the Shakespearian times did not have the technology to have special effects to make the play look and feel more exciting. For example plays had to take place during the day, using natural light from the sun, as there could be no dramatic lighting and there was very little scenery or props. The audience relied on the actor’s lines and stage directions to supply the time of day and year, and the weather, location, and mood of the scenes. So this play does not successfully appeal to a modern audience, as this would be too boring for them to watch.

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          Shakespeare uses many themes in this play some of them are magic, imprisonment, survival, isolation, love and evil. In my opinion, magic is the most effective because the audience can use their imagination more effectively; also this grabs more attention to the play. The themes that are used are usurpation (The overthrow of a rightful ruler) the play contains rebellions, political treachery, mutinies and conspiracies. All kinds of challenges to authority are made:

  • The Boatswain orders the king and courtiers off the deck
  • Antonio seizes the dukedom of Milan from his brother Prospero
  • Caliban ...

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